Lyme Disease and Other Tick-Borne Diseases

Ticks are a type of arachnid that have evolved to feast on blood. A tick bite in itself is harmless, but the bacterial and viral infections that can result range from mildly inconvenient to deadly.

The majority of human infections happen in spring and summer when the ticks go through the nymphal stage, and are the size of a poppy seed. Ticks can be hard to identify in the larval or nymphal stages.

If you find a tick attached to your skin, the best way to remove it is with a pair of tweezers, and ensure that you clean and protect the wound after. Do not squash the tick, as this can also transmit disease. Read on to learn about Lyme disease and other tick-borne diseases.

What Is Lyme Disease?

Lyme disease, also known as borreliosis, is an autoimmune disease triggered by the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi. You receive the bacterial infection through the bite of the blacklegged tick (deer tick, Ixodes scapularis) or the western blacklegged tick.

The longer a tick stays attached to your body, the more likely you will contract Lyme disease – but not all ticks carry the bacteria. On average, the tick needs to stay attached to your body for anything upwards of 36 hours – and they are easily missed when they are so small.

When the bacteria passes from the tick’s mouth to your skin, it immediately makes itself at home, often creating a rash as it creates a localized infection. From there, the bacteria moves to infecting your organs, muscles, joints, and hiding from your immune system. As the bacteria is so widespread across your body, it incites many symptoms that can be confused with other illnesses.

The bacteria also creates neurotoxins, which can damage and destroy otherwise healthy nerve tissue, affecting function. The damage causes mental impairment and the misfiring of your neurons, causing tingling, numbness, and pain. Lyme disease also triggers molecular mimicry – where the immune system mistakes healthy tissue for the bacteria and attacks it.

Lyme Disease Symptoms

Lyme disease symptoms can vary from patient to patient. Not everybody can pinpoint the time they were likely infected, as the nymphal ticks are so tiny. Also, although the Lyme disease rash, a bullseye rash is considered a classic sign of Lyme disease, it doesn’t present in every patient we see.

Symptoms of Lyme disease include:

  • Unusual skin rashes
  • Achy with fluctuations in temperature like you were coming down with the flu
  • Fainting spells
  • Swollen glands
  • Shortness of breath
  • Heart palpitations or chest pain
  • Severe headaches
  • Lightheadedness
  • Facial weakness or paralysis
  • Stiff neck
  • Swelling or pain in your joints
  • Excessive fatigue
  • Brain fog or memory loss
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Depression
  • Digestion issues
  • Nerve tingling, numbness or pain

If you relate to these, you should make an appointment with a functional medicine doctor who specializes in Lyme disease and be tested.

Many people develop Lyme disease symptoms years later, after they were initially infected. Untreated Lyme disease can have serious repercussions on your health, so it is important to get treatment if you know you have likely been exposed to ticks.

The longer you have Lyme disease, the higher the levels of neurotoxins in your body, and the more your cell tissues are under attack.5 Often, patients experience monthly flare-ups, which reflects the bacteria’s life cycle.

Lyme Disease Diagnosis

To accurately test for Lyme disease, we use a number of tests – more than one test is usually ordered as borreliosis is extremely good at hiding from view.

  • Western blot test – Looks for antibodies directed against a range of Borrelia burgdorferi proteins.
  • PCR test – Using this test we check for the bacteria DNA. We take multiple samples, as we can test blood, urine, spinal fluid and small tissue and therefore can test different sites of the body.
  • Antigen detection – This test can be performed on urine. We check for toxins.
  • CD-57 test – As Lyme disease can suppress the immune system, the results of this test can indicate if borreliosis is present.
  • We also check for co-infections – another form of tick-borne disease co-existing with the Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria.

Finding a Functional Medicine Doctor Who Specializes in Lyme Disease

Contact Jellison Integrative MD

If you suspect you have Lyme disease or are looking for a functional medicine doctor in the Kansas City area, call us on (913) 568-0608 or fill out our bookings form below. If you are not in the Kansas City area, you can check the International Lyme and Associated Diseases (ILADS) website.

Lyme Disease and Other Tick-Borne Diseases

Lyme Disease Treatments

Lyme disease treatment can vary from patient to patient. Antibiotics, herbal treatments or a combination of both may be recommended.

It is very important that you are not taking any immunosuppressant drugs such as steroids or drinking alcohol, as these can have an adverse effect on your treatment.

We recommend adopting an anti-inflammatory diet for the duration of your treatment, to aid your body’s fight against the neurotoxins. We advise our patients that afternoon naps are necessary as fatigue sets in – it is important that you don’t take on too much as your body repairs itself. Finally, a gentle exercise regime is beneficial to build up your strength.

What Are Other Examples of Tick Borne Diseases?

Often when you contract Lyme disease, you also contract a secondary tick-borne disease (co-infection). While there is a certain level of awareness of Lyme disease, it is important to consider other risks associated with tick bites. New tick diseases are being discovered all the time.

  • Tick-borne relapsing fever (TBRF) – Transmitted by soft ticks, which only need half an hour to feed on your blood. Sleeping in a rodent-infested rustic dwelling increases the risk. Symptoms are achy joints, high temperature and headache. After the initial three day fever, you may feel better for seven days, before falling ill again.
  • Borrelia miyamotoi – A variant of Lyme disease and Tick-borne relapsing fever. Symptoms are similar to those of Lyme disease.
  • Borrelia mayonii – A recently discovered form of Lyme disease. Symptoms are similar to Lyme disease, but you may also experience nausea and vomiting.
  • Babesiosis – Caused by microscopic parasites that, carried by the blacklegged or western blacklegged ticks. Symptoms can be flu-like, but the parasites attack blood cells, also causing hemolytic anemia, which causes problems for people with compromised immune systems.
  • Anaplasmosis – Caused by Anaplasma phagocytophilum, also carried by blacklegged or western blacklegged ticks. Again, presents with flu-like symptoms, begins one to two weeks after bite, and can be fatal if not treated quickly.
  • Tularemia – Caused by Francisella tularensis and exposure isn’t limited to tick bites. It can also be contracted from deer fly bites, drinking contaminated water, and skin contact with infected animals. A skin ulcer occurs at the site of the tick bite. Symptoms involve fever and weakness. Tularemia can be fatal depending on the type of exposure.
  • Rickettsiosis – A group of spotted fevers including Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF), which despite the name can be caught anywhere in the US. Spotted fevers are transmitted by several species of ticks including the American dog tick, the brown dog tick and the Rocky Mountain wood tick. Symptoms include fever, aches and pains, stomach pain, rash, nausea, vomiting, headache and a lack of appetite. RMSF is the most serious of the spotted fevers – if left untreated it can cause death.
  • Southern Tick-Associated Rash Illness (STARI) – Resembles Lyme disease in symptoms, but this is a separate infection, spread by the bite of the lone star tick. Usually, a red rash will expand from the initial wound around seven days after the bite, spreading out in a circle for 8cm. STARI is still being investigated.
  • Colorado Tick Fever (CTF) – Transmitted by the Rocky Mountain wood tick. You have flu-like symptoms, but you may also have a sore throat, or struggle with vomiting, a rash, and stomach pain. Symptoms may come back several days after the initial illness.
  • Ehrlichiosis – An umbrella term for three bacterial diseases spread by the lone star tick. Symptoms involve aches and pains, headache, fever, chills, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting and red eyes.
  • Heartland virus – Transmitted by the lone star tick, currently only in Southern Midwestern states. The symptoms are similar to those of ehrlichiosis. As this is a virus, antibiotics will not cure this illness.
  • Powassan Virus (POW) – Another serious virus spread by the groundhog tick, squirrel tick, and the blacklegged tick. Symptoms may not be experienced until a month after the bite, but include fever, vomiting, weakness and seizures. POW has some serious consequences as it infects the central nervous system and can cause meningitis.

We believe the best solution to Lyme disease and other tick-borne diseases is that of prevention. When going out into woodland, make sure you stick to the middle of trails. Wear long sleeves and pants, and use tick clothing repellent spray which ensures the ticks won’t be attracted to your clothes.

You can also wear tick repellent, which will put them off. After your hike, make sure you and your friends or family check each other for ticks. Take a hand mirror to check the hard to reach places. Check your dogs or other pets for ticks, remembering it’s best not to crush the tick between your fingers. Tumble dry your clothes for ten minutes also kills ticks.

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